The launch company, Rocket Lab, failed once again to catch one of the first stages of a helicopter’s Electron Launcher as it returned to Earth.
“Repatriating a rocket from space is a difficult task, and capturing it mid-air by helicopter is as complicated as it sounds,” said Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. “The chances of success are much lower than the chances of failure because many complex factors must align perfectly.”
The Rocket Lab Electron can carry 300 kg into low Earth orbit and has more than 30 successful launches to its name. But the craft is not reusable because its first stage either falls off into the ocean – making a mess of its engines – or burns up on return. Rocket Lab recovered electron boosters, successfully recovering and recovering a single engine for ground-fire tests.
To make the electron reusable, the company hopes to capture the electrons floating around under a canopy.
This plan requires the use of Sikorsky S-92 . helicopter This is more than capable of carrying a 1000kg booster.
But catching it is another matter.
As Rocket Lab staff explained during a live video feed (see below) of the mission: “Between the deployment of the main parachute and the time it takes for Electron to reach the ocean, pilots have about ten minutes to complete the hunt. Within that time our pilots need to control Sikorsky, Balancing the hook’s swing underneath as it attaches to the helicopter’s line, accurately attaching to the Electron parachute line, and then securing the missile underneath for the return flight.”
Unfortunately, on this occasion, the short telemetry loss from the first stage of an electron during re-entry meant that no catch was attempted. And that’s fair enough, given that the Sikorsky crew clearly needs to be very confident that they know the missile won’t hit them from the sky.
Rocket Lab does not consider the mission a failure, because it was able to recover the booster from the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.
“We are proud to have successfully retrieved our fifth rocket from the ocean now and look forward to trying another mid-air capture in the future as we work to make the Electron a reusable rocket,” Beck said.
The CEO is happier about the main mission of this mission: the launch of a satellite called MATS (Mediterranean Atmospheric Glow / Aerosol Tomographic and Spectral) for the SSA.
MATS’ mission is to examine waves in the atmosphere and their effect on Earth’s climate. The satellite does this by studying the differences in the light that oxygen molecules emit at an altitude of 100 kilometers.
The satellite lifted off without incident and now occupies a circular orbit of 585 km, making it the 152nd orbital vehicle successfully launched by the Rocket Lab. ®
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